Working Together to Find a Solution for a Child

At a teachers seminar in early 2012, Senior Art Teacher, Neil Rasmussen, led a workshop on Working Together to Find a Solution for a Child. He shared his thoughts and experience with the teachers as described in the following article.

Clive Duffy, a psychologist who visited the School on a regular basis, observed in his work at a Psychiatric Hospital that if the staff all worked together to think positively about a particular patient there would be an immediate improvement. It is my hope that if we concentrate on a few students today we might be able to help them collectively in a way we couldn’t individually. I would like to share a few thoughts I have on the topic with you.

For Clive this positive thinking was very much a question of holding the person in your heart. It is really a question of love, and this can be very difficult for a teacher when they have a student who presses their buttons. Vijay, the School’s founder, said that you must love the unlovable and this has been very difficult for me at times, but I am convinced that you can’t teach a child you don’t love and where there is no mutual respect. When I first took up swimming laps in the local pool, I had a difficult student and every time I thought of him whilst swimming I would swallow a mouthful of water. It was a good lesson in concentration and a measure of where I was in terms of loving him.

Vijay’s policy was to introduce us to the thoughts of leading thinkers in the areas of health, education and spirituality. One of the educationalists I remember from the 1980s was an American, Howard Eckel, who talked to us about Life Long Learning.

One of his premises was that if you could find the subject or topic that interested the student, a topic that the student could feel passionate about, you could follow the interest and teach them everything that they needed to know — in fact to follow that interest into all subject areas.

“Special Interest” sessions in the School came out of this idea. The idea motivated us as a group in the early years to find the thing that the student was interested in or that they could succeed in. Students who lacked confidence and direction responded with quite surprising results because, as a student experienced success in one area, it gave them the confidence to move onto other areas, especially if teachers operated as a group to foster this growth. I have observed this growth many times in my teaching here.

Yaacov Hecht, an Israeli, coming some twenty years later, with his ideas on “Democratic Education”, also emphasized the importance of choice for the student in terms of what they wanted to learn:

  • A choice of areas of learning: the students choose what they want to learn and how.
  • Democratic self-management.
  • Evaluation focussing on the individual — without comparison with others and without testing and grades.
  • A school where children grow from age four until adulthood (eighteen and up).

Hecht went on to establish many schools in Israel using these ideas as a basis.

We are not in a position to implement this vision within the system in Queensland, but it is still possible to create choice from within the curriculum and to encourage the development of the students’ latent interests.

I really liked this story Yaacov tells to illustrate his vision and if you can bear with me I’ll read it.

Getting Lost

When I was about seventeen years old, I went on one of my many hikes over the sand dunes north of Hadera. I took along a pair of binoculars and planned to do some bird-watching in the area. It was a hot, exhausting day. Grains of sand stuck to my sweaty skin and perspiration poured down my face. I was thirsty, and found none of the usual pleasure I took in bird-watching. Disappointed and upset, I resolved to go home and turned to the west, plotting my path in the direction of the highway. I knew the way well, but irritated by the combination of perspiration, impatience, and scorching sun, I got lost.

I searched for what seemed a long time, but all the sand dunes suddenly looked exactly alike. For a moment, I imagined that I would be stuck there forever, when I suddenly noticed a hill that I had never climbed before. A spark of curiosity led me to it. I knew the dunes well, but I couldn’t remember seeing that one before. I climbed it, cursing myself for my foolish curiosity. And then I reached the top. I will never forget how it felt: right there, in the middle of the dunes, surrounded by greenery, a lake the size of a football field sparkled with blue, clear, inviting water. Whooping with joy, I scampered down the sand dune, tearing off my clothes as I ran, and dived into the cool water. Amazed by my discovery of this unknown lake, I swam for quite a while, splashing about and roaring with rapture. Then I got dressed and easily found my way back to the highway.

A week later, I invited a few friends to share my discovery. “You won’t believe it,” I told them. “Wait until you see how amazing this lake is.” This time we drove there, approaching the lake by the nearest access road. Then, walking quickly, we climbed the hill. As we stood there, looking over the clear water, I could feel my excitement mounting, but to my surprise and disappointment, my friends were not impressed. “What, that’s it? You’re so excited by this little lake,” they said. “Don’t you know that just a kilometer away from here, there’s a huge water reservoir right in the middle of the dunes? What’s so special about this tiny lake?” I tried to explain to them how special the place was to me, but to no avail. Since then, I have brought other people to the lake, but discover each time that I am unable to recreate that same sense of excitement among others, and the interest in the lake stops with me.

This story epitomizes what happens during the learning process. Learning is a story of searching, discovery, of a great excitement and intimacy—all of which are difficult to convey to others.

I believe that all learning is the discovery of something new. The experience of discovery, the moment when something new is discovered—to find a plant that I have been seeking for a long time, to come across a book I have never seen before, or any other discovery, whether about the world or about myself—is one of the most powerful and moving experiences there is.

Yaacov Hecht

The challenge is to bring that sense of discovery into the classroom. Vijay always urged us to take the students out of the classroom and we have a camp program, and an Outdoor Education Program, which does this. My wish has been to bring the learning which happens on “Outward Bound” courses into my classroom experience. To facilitate that natural learning which flows from doing something and receiving an immediate response or consequence, which results in a discovery.

Drama has been used effectively to help students realize truths about themselves. I believe Michael Funder helped students write scripts using characters like themselves so that in playing themselves they had to experience some sort of reality check. With a group of boys I did the play “Twelve Angry Men” and cast them according to character traits I wanted them to look at. I am told they still talk about it.

For every child I think there is the possibility of finding a trigger that will change, redirect or motivate them. Here in this school we have teachers with a variety of skills and it is important for you to contribute in a way that is right for you.

What I would like is for you to pool these skills and work in groups to see if you can come up with a plan of action for two students which might redirect their energies in a more positive way. I think that just the act of focusing on them, as I have suggested, will help them, but I am sure we can go further than that.

About the Author

Neil Rasmussen

Neil Rasmussen spent over 20 years as The School of Total Education’s senior Art and Drama teacher and made an outstanding contribution to the life of the School and its students. He directed over 40 plays and musicals with secondary students. After retiring from full-time teaching, Neil has continued at the School as a part-time Senior Art teacher.

This article was published in SOTE News for Term 1, 2012. (Published on web site: May 2012).